I was honored to be on the panel of speakers at Meet Plan Go in Austin, and it was a great event. I hope everyone learned something and became inspired to travel! Naturally, I spoke primarily about budgeting (being the co-found of Budget Your Trip and all that).
When it comes to long-term travel, everyone always asks, “how much does it cost?“ My wife and I have done several long-term trips, including a year-long trip, and over time we’ve learned how to put it all together. It’s hard to get all of that “expertise” out in one night during a speaking event, so I wanted to try to put some words down in writing that will hopefully educate those of you planning a trip. No, we’re not accountants or financial planners or professional tour guides. We’ve just done this enough times to the point where we’re comfortable hopping on a plane, knowing what to expect when we arrive, and how to figure it all out along the way.
Here’s what I talked about at the Meet Plan Go event in Austin (both on the panel and to individuals after): how to figure out your budget, factors that affect your budget, planning not to have a plan, and how to save money.
First, how do you figure out your budget? Planning for a long term trip is very different than booking a two week vacation. Don’t worry, various strategies have been tried by many intrepid travelers before you. Some people leave with absolutely no plan – they aim to travel as much as possible given the amount of money they have in their bank account. This sounds pretty scary to most people, though (even me). Others pull out Excel or even Microsoft Project (gantt charts, anyone?) and plan everything to the last detail. This may sound like the perfect solution, but in the end you won’t stick to that plan anyway so it’s only a way to make yourself go crazy. If you do, you’ll be miserable and regret it because a long term trip has too many changing variables to be able to stick to a set plan.
The ideal solution is somewhere in between. I think someone quoted me when I was on the panel and said, “plan not to have a plan”. You’ll want to change your plans while you’re on the road. This is a good thing, it‘s the best part of long term travel. There’s no way you can know everything up front, and this is the beauty of exploration. Instead of going into too much detail with their trip budgets, I told people to figure out their average daily budget for a country or region. Then, multiply this daily average by the amount of time you’ll be there. Add on plane tickets to get there and maybe a little extra for unexpected costs, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of your budget. This will help you balance your need to figure out your total costs with your desire to wander aimlessly like a nomad.
As a simple example, let’s say you’re going to France for a month, and then Italy for 2 months. First, you could figure out the typical daily costs you would spend in each of these places – France: 52 Euros, Italy: 49 Euros (these are the “budget” daily averages, typical for “backpackers”). Then you can do some math: 30 days X 52 Euros for France, plus 60 days X 49 Euros for Italy… that’s approximately 4,500 Euros for a 3 month trip, not including airfare to get there and back.
To find your average daily costs for a region, country, or city, you can…
- Get a guide book (Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Let’s Go
) and check out prices for hotels, food, buses or trains, admission tickets for sites and museums, and so forth.
- Look at the daily average costs for various countries and cities here at BudgetYourTrip.com where the information comes from actual travelers’ budgets. This is why we created this resource in the first place!
- Talk to other travelers, either in person or online via travel forums.
Next, I talked about the factors that affect your budget. We’ve also mentioned these points in our How To Plan A Trip Around The World guide, but they warrant repeating. Your budget will be affected by the following variables:
- The locations you visit: Europe, Australia, the U.S., and a few other places are expensive. India, Southeast Asia, and South and Central America are cheap, very cheap. Sometimes it’s hard to comprehend just how cheap. In India we spent $18 per day for both of us. That includes everything except the plane tickets to get in and out. And I mean everything: hotels, train tickets, bus rides, food, entrance fees to the various sites, etc. In Europe you can spend that much just to have a glance at an old painting or eating a decent breakfast.
- How quickly you travel: transportation costs add up. Moving faster and changing your location every few days will cost you more in the long run than taking it slow. Taking it slow will also give you a chance to absorb the culture. Most long term travelers have highly recommended a slower pace.
- How you get around: Local buses and trains are cheaper than flying. Taking private tours or hiring private cars can get expensive. If you want to get in with the culture, go with the locals. Your experiences will be more authentic, and your wallet will thank you as well.
- How luxurious your accommodations are: hostels are cheap and fancy hotels are expensive. Don’t worry though, if you don’t want to do the hostel thing, there are plenty of cheap, locally owned budget hotels to stay in. Yes, they are clean and often quite nice. Or, you can often stay in a private room in a hostel, as many hostel owners know that some people don’t want to share a room (especially couples). Making reservations in most places can actually cost you more money than if you just show up. Over time, most travelers find that their standards of luxury go down. You learn a lot about the world and yourself, and you learn that life is not all about fancy hotels.
Finally, I talked to a few people about how to save money. There are a million books, guides, and websites that will tell you how to save your money for anything from travel, to buying a new house, to retirement. You can read all you want, but it comes down to one basic factor: your ability and willingness to actually do it. You must prioritize. Do you need that new car, iPhone, pair of shoes, or whatever? Think of each purchase as another day or week traveling. If you could spend $18 per day in India, how many days would those new shoes cost you? In our personal experience, we also found it good to pull out a specific amount of money from our paychecks each month and stick it into a savings account. Then pretend it doesn’t exist and live off of the remaining funds. This will force you to prioritize. Remember, being on a budget is easier said than done. You must stay focused.
I once heard a financial expert say, “you usually can’t control the amount of money you make, but you can control the amount of money you spend.” Think hard about that advice and understand the implications of it.
Finally, here are a few travel budgeting myths and inaccurate advice I’ve heard from others over the years.
Myth: You can’t do it for less than $20,000.
Well, no, lots of people do an around the world trip for less. It also depends on how long you travel, and where, and… I think we just covered these points. In other words, there is no set price – everyone is different. The various factors that we already mentioned affect your budget more than anything else, so plan accordingly.
Myth: Plan for twice as much as you think you need.
If you plan well, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you need. But now that I think about it, if you have twice as much money, you can go for twice as long! Or maybe you’ll have some leftover when you come back, which can’t hurt either. However, I’m afraid that planning to save twice as much might scare some people away from traveling, though. It’s hard enough to save a lot of money in the first place, let alone twice as much.
Myth: Get an around-the-world plane ticket.
Seriously and thoroughly look into prices and the locations where you’re going. Sometimes these tickets are a good deal, and sometimes they’re not. It depends on when and where you go. Discount regional airlines are often a better alternative. Check out Ryan Air, Air Baltic, Easy Jet, Air Berlin, Air India, Air Asia, Kingfisher, Ethiopian, Jet Airways, and others. We’ve discussed around the world plane tickets and their pros and cons elsewhere on this site, so just make sure that you’re buying what you need to buy instead of just making a quick impulsive purchase that could hurt you in the long run. We’re not saying that you should not buy these tickets, just do your homework first.
That about sums it up. I hope everyone had a good time at the event! I know we did. If anyone has any questions they’d like to ask about planning or budgeting, feel free to shoot us a message directly.